Stakeholders seek ally in Azar

‘We just want to him to remember to come back with his commitment to Thune to look into the IFR’
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Friday, January 26, 2018

WASHINGTON – The ink is barely dry on his confirmation papers, but industry stakeholders are ready to work with new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“We look forward to working with Secretary Azar to produce a sustainable reimbursement environment for HME,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare. “We’re hopeful that he will work with the Office of Management and Budget to get the interim final rule, rolling back some of the cuts for rural providers, released soon. It’s also critical that HHS and CMS work on fixes for the competitive bidding program before the next bidding round goes into effect.”

The Senate confirmed Azar Jan. 24 by a 55-43 vote. At his Jan. 9 confirmation hearing, he told Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., he would be “happy” to work with the OMB to “quickly approve” an IFR that would provide relief from Medicare’s competitive bidding program in non-bid areas.

President Donald Trump nominated Azar in November after then-Secretary Tom Price resigned. While Price was an HME champion well versed in issues like competitive bidding, Azar, a pharmaceutical exec who worked most recently as chairman and founder of Seraphim Strategies, a consulting firm, doesn’t have much—if any—experience with DME. But that’s not necessarily a problem, say stakeholders.

“He doesn’t have a track record of negative or positive positions (on DME), which in and of itself is not a bad thing,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “As secretary, CMS is only one of the many agencies he’s responsible for and it’s unclear how closely he’ll be involved.”

Azar’s resume also includes a stint as president of Lilly USA, an affiliate of Eli Lilly, from January 2012 to January 2017; and a stint at HHS, from 2005-07, as a deputy secretary in the department, and from 2001-05, as general counsel.

As HHS secretary, Azar will be working at 10,000 feet, fighting the Affordable Care Act and other high-profile national healthcare issues, say stakeholders. As long as industry champions look over his shoulder on things like the IFR, they remain optimistic.

“We just want to him to remember to come back with his commitment to Thune to look into the IFR,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for VGM.